Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sorting Out The Twins Bullpen

Much like the Royals unsettled bullpen situation, the Twins too are looking at a lot of pitchers to try and fill out their bullpen. While the reasons for the two teams many bullpen holes are different, the predicaments is the same: how do you  construct an effective 'pen without many proven arms?

In the Royals case, the team has a lot of holes because there were so few capable arms last year, and they have a bevy of quality young options to chose from. In the Twins case however, they lost a bullpen's worth of quality arms this past off season with the departures of Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, and Brian Fuentes. All the loses have left the franchise with a lot of holes to fill and few proven players to do so with.

There are a few players we can assume will be there however. For one, last years closer Matt Capps will be back and in all likelihood so too will former closer Joe Nathan. Which one of those two pitchers ends up doing the bulk of the closing will likely have to do with just how well Nathan has recovered from Tommy John surgery, but both should be viable late-inning options as Nathan has looked solid so far this spring.

Beyond those two, the Twins are also likely to lean on Jose Mijares as a 7th/8th inning option and to get high leverage outs against lefties. Mijares has had a couple up-and-down seasons with the Twins and has drawn the criticism of management and the coaching for his conditioning, so how he performs in 2011 will likely go a long way in determining his long-term future with the team.

Another spot will go to whomever loses the battle for the 5th starter position. As of now both Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker are thought to be the two candidates for that job. My guess is that Slowey will be the one relegated given that Baker owns a long-term deal already and has been the better pitcher over the past few seasons. I also just think Slowey's stuff plays better out of the bullpen. Despite having strong peripherals as a starter including elite control, Slowey has struggled to become a highly successful starter due to tendencies to work into deep counts often and a penchant for being a strong fly ball pitcher. Working out of the bullpen could help to mask both of those deficiencies.

Of course, Baker has also dealt with elbow problems since last year and hasn't looked too sharp in spring training, so there is also a perfectly good chance he goes to the bullpen too. In either case, one of the two will be in the bullpen. So those are the four spots we can say with some amount of confidence that we know will be locked up. That leaves three others.

Another pitcher who is likely to make the bullpen is the out-of-options Glen Perkins. I'm not entirely certain why, but he continues to receive opportunity after opportunity because the team feels that if he could establish some Major League success, they could move him. The problem with that idea of course is that he hasn't experienced any real success since pitching in AA back in 2006. Still, the team is committed to continuing to try and force that square peg into the proverbial round hole. He should fill a mop-up role and do the low leverage work against left handers despite being worse against lefties than righties.

Then, starting with the same process of elimination we used in the Royals piece we'll subtract pitchers, regardless of how promising they might be, who aren't on the 40-man roster as themcracking the 40-man any time in the next 15 days is awfully unlikely.

That means ground ball specialists like Carlos Gutierrez and Kyle Waldrop won't make the cut. A shame since I feel they both have the stuff to be successful Major League bullpen options right now. We can also likely filter out Anthony Slama. Slama has posted impressive numbers at every stop in them minors, but for some reason has never earned the respect of the Twins front office or its Manager, meaning he will most certainly not make the team.

With two positions left, and both lefty roles filled, the Twins need simply to choose from the two best remaining options. The remaining candidates would be Scott Diamond, the teams Rule V pick; Jim Hoey, a hard throwing but control challenged righty acquired in the J.J. Hardy trade; Pat Neshek, a former standout setup man who hasn't been the same since undergoing Tommy John; Alex Burnett, a solid but over-matched young righty who had a good debut for the Twins in 2010 before getting hit hard and sent down; and Dusty Hughes, a capable lefty acquired off waivers from the Royals.

Given what we know about the Twins disdain for pitchers who allow even a few walks, I think Hoey is an easy scratch and I don't see Burnett making the team out of spring training either. That leaves Diamond, Neshek, and Hughes.

Diamond could be a good option given that he'd have to be sent back if the Twins didn't start the season with him. There is also a good chance that his stuff will play up enough in a bullpen role after being a starter for his entire tenure in the Braves organization. My guess is that he'll head north and the Twins will make him fail before choosing to offer him back or attempt to work out a trade to keep him.

That leaves Hughes and Neshek in competition for the final spot. Both pitchers have performed well this spring, for whatever that's worth, but my guess is that Gardenhire will prefer Neshek simply because he's familiar with him. Not that it's a bad decision. Neshek is older than most probably realize (he'll be 31 in 2011) and 2011 could be his last legitimate chance to reestablish himself as a viable option. He also comes with an upside that Hughes simply does not possess.

So there you have it, that's my best guess at the 2011 Twins opening day bullpen. Of course, this is a unit that, like the Royals, is certain to undergo a lot of change as the season progresses.

Nathan, Capps, Mijares, Neshek, Diamond, Perkins, Slowey.

Corey Ettinger is a Senior Writer for Baseball Digest as well as a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net, 312Sports.com, and 313sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates, random thoughts and general tomfoolery.

1 comment:

  1. Good post and analysis - it sounds like the Twins are expecting Mijares to have a pretty solid season this year, and he apparently has added a 2-seam fastball to his repertoire. I'm looking for him to step up in 2011.